Interrupting Chicken

David Ezra Stein, Author
David Ezra Stein, Candlewick, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-7636-4168-9
Reviewed on: 07/19/2010
Release date: 08/01/2010
Compact Disc - 978-1-4498-6480-4
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Stein's earlier books did not foretell an ability to pull off broad comedy, but this father-and-daughter bedtime banter is all the better for being a surprise. A little red chicken, lying in bed in her pajamas, can't help slamming on the brakes when Papa's read-aloud stories get too tense: "Out jumped a little red chicken," she cuts in as Papa reads Hansel and Gretel, "and she said, ‘DON'T GO IN! SHE'S A WITCH!' So Hansel and Gretel didn't. THE END!" Stein's spreads are thickly and energetically worked, the colors intense, and the lighting and shadows dramatic. For Papa's bedtime stories, Stein (Leaves) shifts styles, inking each scene in spindly ink; when the chicken interrupts, she bursts onto the sepia pages in full color. And when, after cutting short three of Papa's stories, she starts in on a tale of her own, Stein switches again to preschooler crayon, as her sleepy father interrupts in his own way. The delivery is Catskill perfect; readers will fall hard for the antics of this hapless pair. Ages 4–8. (Aug.) G unner, Football Hero James E. Ransome Holiday House, $16.95 (32p) ISBN 978-0-8234-2053-7 In the first half of this tale of an aspiring Pee Wee football star, Ransome (What Lincoln Said) has never been funnier or looser. From the very first page, in which the pear-shaped, beak-nosed Gunner strikes the famous Heisman pose and almost pulls it off through sheer force of personality, it's clear this is an unlikely hero worth knowing. But for all of Gunner's charisma, the third-string quarterback can't compensate for the story's saggy second half. Ransome's play by play of the big game, when Gunner finally gets a chance to play, feels almost clinical ("The running backs ran. Gunner passed, the receivers caught, and the offensive slowly moved down the field"). Although there are some stirring images of pigskin glory, especially a game-changing interception, there are also some striking disconnects between text and art. "Everyone on the Malden Tigers side of the field CHEERED!" shouts the narrator when Gunner throws a touchdown-scoring pass; meanwhile the crowd is shown sitting quietly, devoid of emotion. Readers will start out rooting for Gunner, but they may leave before the game is over. Ages 4–8. (Aug.)
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